Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On today's news...

I'm just going to say this: May the Force have mercy on all our souls.

The sad fact is this is the second time I've accidentally predicted a new film (which I didn't think would ACTUALLY be made) which has then subsequently been produced. First Yogi Bear and now this....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another year another F1 console game – A review of F1 2012 on XBOX 360

Every year I contemplate not buying the new Formula One game. Yes, I am a F1 fanboy but I always wonder if I’m slowly accumulating a collection of games with last year’s models that I won’t play once the new season edition arrives. Do you ever wish they would just release a basic definitive game and then just release updates every year with new cars, drivers et cetera?  (If anyone in the games industry is reading this then please consider it. I’m running out of room on my games shelf.) I doubt it will happen given the massive success of yearly FIFA titles but it’s a thought.

So, what does F1 2012 have to offer to racing fans?

To start with you are introduced to the gameplay and feel of the car with Young Driver Test mode. Now, whilst this is a nice edition to newcomers and people getting to grips with the handling changes from 2011, it does feel slightly patronizing.

"You can drive a real F1 car only when you prove you are responsible!"
You buy a new game with the intention of getting your hands dirty with a quick race as your favourite driver and after realizing you don’t know your arse from your elbow in F1 terms you run with your tail between your legs back to the tutorial pleading forgiveness. Instead you are met with a mandatory half hour segment (at Abu Dhabi one of the least popular tracks amongst drivers and fans!), where you are taught how to turn left and right at one point. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good edition and it does add a level of F1 world immersion to the game but it feels heavy handed.

Once you get past F1 101 however you can dive in and explore the main game modes which include favourites such as Quick Race, Career Mode, Time Trial and, new for 2012, Champions mode. This  addition is actually a really good idea and adds an element not seen in an F1 game since Challenge mode in F1 World Grand Prix II on the N64. The task is to race each of the respective champions racing in F1 today and to beat them, for instance against Kimi Raikonnen you have to race and beat the rest of the field on a new set of tyres. It’s a nice touch that shakes up the formula of what is often a case of going through the motions with each new title. At least Codemasters seem to be trying to innovate.

There are a lot of other little tweaks to be found in F1 2012. For one the tyres, which have over the last couple of years proven to be a crucial factor for race victory, really make a difference and by god does the game punish you if slip a wheel off the track onto the grass as you get an immediate loss of grip for about half a minute following. The graphics also seemed to have been turned up noticeably since last year with the cars gleaming like their real life counterparts.

Whilst F1 2012 does have a lot to offer there are still a couple of minor gripes. Firstly it seems as if the developers have removed some of the driver reactions that were in F1 2011. Now if you retire or are disqualified we are no longer treated to the driver shaking his head in disgust whilst talking to his mechanic as segue between loading screens. It’s a pity they decided to slot that in only one game as it added a nice feeling that you were participating in the sport for real and your actions had consequences. Additionally the brilliant paddock-based menus of the game’s predecessors have been replaced with a much more conventional style text menu. It’s curious to see Codemasters abandon their immersive tone in this respect.

Perhaps it’s because this is the third in a growing list of games but something feels a little limp about F1 2012. This is a shame because it’s no poor effort. Codemasters are still one of the best racing developers out there with unmatched interaction with real fans. You also get the impression that an enthusiasts hand is behind the creation. However, there’s something missing and maybe it’s that the room for innovation is growing cramped. Also you increasingly feel that the makers are trying to pander a little to newer fans to avoid alienating them from the franchise.

As long as the game is not prohibitively difficult there is really no reason to fear that person new to F1 won’t get what’s going on. In fact, that’s how I got back into the sport back in 1997 with the brilliant Formula 1 97 on the Playstation. Hopefully it’s just a one year blip.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Red Dwarf X: A welcome return to form

You may remember I threw a bit of a hissy fit the last time a new episode of Red Dwarf hit our screens. Back to Earth was nothing less than self-indulgent meta-humour, although its greatest crime was that it really wasn’t that funny.

Thankfully, the newly revived series Red Dwarf X has been a relative breath of fresh air. The boys from the Dwarf are back and, despite the odd wrinkle, it’s as if they’ve never been away.

Much of the first episode Trojan felt right and on form. Rimmer is as dorky (his new life slogan is "Hey ho pip and dandy!"),  weasley and resentful as ever, to the point that he even crashes his holographic hard drive due to a huge bitterness data jam. Lister is still meandering pointlessly through life, filling it with whatever distractions he can – in this case spending a majority of the episode impatiently on hold to a phone-in shopping channel. Kryten still appears to be on 24 hour wipe alert and The Cat is still screeching around the ship and getting into inane conversations. It really was like a reunion with a group of old friends that you had forgotten how much you had missed.

Gone however were the horrendous late 90s CGI scenes of Red Dwarf VII and VIII and back were the spaceship models. It’s been commented elsewhere and I have to agree that the show probably suffered from trying to be too big budget and the back to basics approach has really made the series come alive again.

Fans should not be disappointed with the attention to detail that the writers and producers have put into the new series, such as photos from the early series appearing in the background of the bunkroom scenes.

The key thing that the series seems to have rediscovered though is the comedy. Despite a slightly weak opening couple of minutes there were consistent chuckles throughout Trojan and two or three real belly laughs in the mix. There were also several well timed recurring jokes throughout the 20 minute run and all with a decent pay off. In short the humour was sharp and it is an encouraging beginning to the new series.

What can I say except for I can’t smegging wait until the next episode!

A controversial topic

The debate surrounding abortion has again been appearing in the news. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has openly stated that he believes that abortions should no longer be carried out after 12 weeks of gestation (instead of the current 24); although the government has been quick to point out that there are no intended policy changes.

Obviously this has awoken voices on both sides of the pro-life and pro-choice fence and as usual the pro-life crowd are using it to try to use it to hammer home the message that any abortion is wrong, no matter whether it was within the 24 week allocation. This argument I always find somewhat jarring and I shall explain why in detail.

Let me nail my flag to the cross right now. I am pro-abortion. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a nice way to go about birth control (nor might I add should it be anything but a last resort) but it is a necessary evil in a world where we have mastered nature and face a very worrying future of over-population.


Religious arguments always crop up around this arena of discussion and this is actually quite counterproductive. I don’t like the idea that someone with a different religious view or moral view as the case may be, has to enforce their opinions on someone else in this way and especially in such a sensitive and loaded matter.

Quite frankly if one does not want an abortion than one doesn’t have to have one, such is the beauty of choice. Taking away that choice because of your own moral objections isn’t just wrong, it’s pretty evil (I'm not going to even start on the implications that would have on scenarios where an abortion is sought out due to rape or for the risk of medical complications to both mother and child). Being a parent is not everyone’s ideal situation. In fact many would consider it their worst nightmare or alternatively are just incapable of being a parent in the first place.

People often argue (included a good number of women who have undergone abortions) that abortion leads to psychological trauma, which I fear is an unavoidable factor and demonstrates that abortion should be a last resort and not as a form of contraception. On the flip side though, imagine the psychological trauma of an irreversible unwanted pregnancy. Worse still this resentment can be passed on to the child, so by taking away the choice of abortion you are potentially multiplying trauma rather than avoiding it. Simply put the psychological trauma argument is too inconsistent. Still, as long as you and your god are happy, who cares about human suffering?

The problem with this debate is that a life is being ended. Not technically ended, but actually ended. There is no way it can be defined as anything else; if so you are just euphemizing the situation.  However it is one thing to take a life away from someone that rather likes being alive than taking away a life that really doesn’t know it’s there. There’s a sense of tragedy in the former and in the latter there is only speculation as to who or what the foetus may be. Despite the difference, the murder angle can be applied and that’s where sensible debate on the subject often flies out of the window.

I find it especially interesting when the case is argued emotionally and someone states something to the effect of:

 “So, you like abortion? So you support your mother’s right to kill you and prevent you from experiencing life? How would you feel if that had happened then eh?”

 Firstly I’d answer that by pointing out I wouldn’t have an opinion in that scenario as I wouldn’t have existed and therefore would be unable to form one. Secondly I find this position very egoic and even selfish. To be completely honest I don’t think I’d have minded if I had been aborted. If my parents had so wished then why would I be so selfish as to deny that option? I’m not driven by my own self-importance in the scheme of life itself.

Not everyone is happy to be alive. Many view life as a miraculous experience and I congratulate them on that. However, that view is not shared by everyone and should not be universally enforced. Not everyone wished to be born and some people may not want to be here. Once again here we see this debate loaded heavily to one side by individual who are just enforcing  Why enforce a lifetime of suffering just so moral absolutists can try to avoid unpleasant facts?

I suppose the whole thing boils down to Sigmund Freud’s summation of religion as a symptom of our “fear of death”. A fear of death is natural and is probably the most natural impulse associated with life itself. It is the great opposite and a great unknown. None of us like people dying but it is an unavoidable facet of our existence. If everyone lived forever AND kept reproducing we would be in trouble very quickly.

You need to keep a delicate state of balance otherwise matters spiral out of control. It can be seen already as the birth rate proportionally increases as more people live longer and reproduce. This system is unsustainable and unfortunately for anyone particularly religious, contraception and abortion may be the only way out.

This is probably one of the darker posts I’ve written. I hate to say it but the pro-life argument is almost totally driven by wishful thinking, emotion and the ideal that a foetus is the finished product before it has even begun to form a personality, not a consideration as to whether a life REALLY needs to exist or not or whether someone would be better off for it happening.